Congress ready, willing and ABLE

This month, before concluding its business, the 113th Congress passed the ABLE Act by a large margin and the President has now signed it into law. Officially named “Achieving a Better Life Experience,” ABLE helps level the playing field and corrects several inequities facing Americans with disabilities and their families. 

With 380 cosponsors in the House and 74 in the Senate, and mobilization by disability advocates and self-advocates, enacting ABLE proved no longer the uphill struggle it once was. This victory for fairness, the result of eight years of efforts by advocates in the disability community, demonstrates that the disability community can be united, forceful and powerful and should never again be taken for granted or ignored. 

This measure allows Americans to be able to save their own money to care for a child with disabilities – without forfeiting additional benefits their child deserves. ABLE amends Section 529 of the tax code, allowing tax-free savings to pay for qualifying expenses of persons with disabilities. It also amends the Social Security Act, allowing up to $100,000 in such savings to not count against the $2,000 asset limit for Medicaid or supplemental SSI. 

The fact that ABLE was cosponsored by significant majorities in both Houses means members of Congress set aside partisan battles in order to uphold the rights of the disability community. The bill provides Americans with disabilities access to the same rights and opportunities available to anyone else. In the next Congress, we hope to realize more structural changes to better ensure the civil rights of the disability community as all Americans would expect. 

As a Republican member of Congress and the president of a foundation committed to the full inclusion of individuals with disabilities, we recognize the importance of giving all families the chance to plan and save without being penalized. We have been awed by the efforts of the disability community, including the self-advocacy of many Americans with disabilities, who worked tirelessly to educate and advocate for this game-changing legislation. 

The ABLE Act allows parents to put away money each year to help support an adult child with a disability – without being taxed, without losing eligibility for Medicaid or supplemental security (SSI) benefits. This is hardly “expanding big government”, it’s reducing the need for it, and it’s removing an unnecessary burden from working parents. These dollars can be used for education, therapy, housing, and employment supports – the things that lead to a meaningful and full life. 

People with disabilities make up roughly 20 percent of our population, and their impact is being felt. Having arrived, and with a transition of Senate leadership in 2015, the disability community is in a position to build on ABLE and chart a new course for equality, empowerment, and full inclusion. In the 114th Congress, we look forward to the next steps toward removing our nation’s remaining obstacles, freeing families with disabilities to contribute to achieving a better life without sacrificing the supplemental assistance.

Harper has represented Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District since 2009. He sits on the Energy and Commerce, and the House Administration committees. Ruderman is the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which focuses on the inclusion of people with disabilities in Israel and the Jewish community worldwide.